A Nation of Tinkerers: Crowd-Funding Turns American Amateurs Into Inventors

The Internet has enabled and boosted the amateur impulse worldwide. But American amateurism has its own color and feel. It nurtures a culture where innovation, like self-governance, can be accomplished by everyday people in their spare time. As Kickstarter has shown, crowd-funding is ideally suited to helping just these sorts of hobbyist-inventors.

Since Kickstarter doesn’t offer equity, it attracts a different kind of funder, a person who’s more like the inventor—compelled by enthusiasm and curiosity. These funders don’t expect anything financial in return—the way Kickstarter is currently set up, they can’t. Rather, they’re looking only for the satisfaction of being associated with an idea in its infancy and watching it come to fruition.

Researchers who study human motivation have spent decades attempting to decode what they call “intrinsic motivation”—that is, the drive to do something out of enthusiasm or love, the very essence of amateurism. Numerous studies show that while direct reward (a paycheck, for instance) motivates us somewhat, it can also bridle creativity. By connecting enthusiast makers with enthusiast investors, crowd-funding has the power to keep people motivated—right through what, in a 9-to-5 job, might be career-ending missteps or failures—so that they can stay focused on realizing their vision.

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